Arts & Culture

Grand Cinema, Tacoma Symphony team up to showcase music from films

Watching a film with your eyes shut isn’t something many people do, but it definitely gives you a new appreciation for the music score.

Another way to do that, though, is to attend a unique collaboration that’s happening Friday (June 20): “An Evening of Cinematic Music,” where local singers and members of the Tacoma Symphony (TSO) will play their way through film scores from 1939 to 2013.

Co-produced by The Grand Cinema and the Tacoma Symphony, the concert at Urban Grace Church will celebrate the best of film music.

“Music is so much a part of every film,” said Zach Powers, director of marketing at the Grand, who came up with the idea for the program last year. “And the people who support the Grand also support local music events.”

Powers approached the TSO, who liked the idea and wanted to co-produce it as a benefit. All of the night’s proceeds, including sales from drinks and desserts, will support programming for both organizations.

But out of the thousands of movies made since silent-film days, how did they choose which scores to put into a concert?

“I started by polling all of our staff, asking for their 10 favorite songs or movie scores,” Powers said. “Then I cross-referenced that list with all the scores that have gotten a nomination or win at the Academy Awards.”

The TSO advised on what could be scored for nine strings, and Powers built a program that starts with “Gone With the Wind” (1939), traverses favorites like “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “Lady in Red” (1979), acknowledges classics like Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” (1961) and a John Williams medley (“Star Wars”/“Jurassic Park”/“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and heads into modern Disney-pop such as “Frozen” (2013). Along the way there are nods to 1960s drama (“Psycho”) and indie-arthouse scores like “Cinema Paradiso” (1990) and “Juno” (2007).

“In the 1930s, film technology allowed directors to mix music, sound effects and speech, so people started experimenting (with film music),” said John Paul, incoming music chairman at Pacific Lutheran University and himself a film composer. “By the 1940s, it had been worked out, become more standardized. Studios then began to use music as a marketing device.”

The first was the score for “Gone with the Wind,” said Paul, which the composer suggested the studio create as a separate soundtrack. The studio said nobody would buy it – but the rest is history. Film scores went on to include hit songs (like “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio,” which will be in tonight’s program), to be more experimental in the sci-fi 1960s, to be influenced and influence classical music (like scores by John Williams and Philip Glass) as well as jazz and pop, going way beyond music as aural wallpaper.

A musician himself, Powers booked a range of Tacoma singer-songwriters to perform the vocal music, either with guitar or piano; artists include Grace Sullivan of Apartment Lights, Kye Alfred Hillig, William Jordan, Elliot Stockstad, Olivia Joy Hustoft and duos Elk and Boar (Kirsten Wenlock and Travis Barker) and The Tenants (Mitchell Dorn and Ally Dorn). They’ll alternate with the TSO nonet on stage as the program makes its way from the 1930s to the present day, while host Steve Reeder narrates to give context for each piece.

“Almost everybody will know at least 15 out of these 20 pieces,” Powers said, adding that he hopes the concert will become an annual event.

So with all these award-winning scores, is there a recipe for a musical movie hit?

“If I knew that, I would write it!” Paul said. “It has to be singable, hummable, memorable. It needs to have a shape, like the classical arc form, which is how we speak. And it needs a bit of repetition.”